No lurch to the left

The Tories would be unwise to believe their own spin about Jon Cruddas's appointment to head Labour'

It was hardly a shuffle, more like a shimmy. Ed Miliband has made some changes to his top team in response to the departure of Peter Hain from the office of shadow Secretary of State for Wales. His replacement is Owen Smith, a generally well-rated MP from the 2010 intake who seems to have made a wide range of friends and few enemies in his short time in parliament.

But the move that has generated the most attention is the handing of responsibility for the party’s policy review to Jon Cruddas. The Dagenham MP has a high profile in the party and has been pestered by various people to take a front line ever since his unsuccessful but much admired (in Labour circles; unnoticed anywhere else) campaign for the deputy leadership in 2007.

The appointment has been vacuously branded by Conservatives a “lurch to the left”. This is presumably a half-hearted attempt to re-animate the spectre of “Red Ed” as a kind of default jibe in the absence of more imaginative ways to insult the Labour leader. Anyone who knows Cruddas, has followed his career or listened to his arguments will know he is plainly not a reactionary big state union-hugging lefty from central casting. He was an advisor to Tony Blair and a supporter of David Miliband’s leadership bid in 2010. He was a critic of big state models of welfare spending as ineffective in dealing with stubborn social problems back in the days when budget constraints were not even part of the discussion.

He has dedicated considerable thought to an acute dilemma in modern British politics: how to address the insecurity, disorientation and disempowerment that many feel in response to globalised economic forces without indulging in illiberal strains of protectionism and atavistic nationalism. One criticism sometimes heard of Cruddas is that he is long on elegant analysis of a problem, short on solution.

By contrast, that allegation is never made against Lord Andrew Adonis, Gordon Brown’s transport secretary and architect of the Academy Schools programme under Tony Blair. He has been recruited to feed thoughts on industrial strategy into the policy review. That is being interpreted in some quarters as a symbolic hire to indicate that Blairish ideas are tolerated in Miliband’s Labour party. There was certainly appetite for such a gesture since Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary who has been kicked off the policy review, is considered a fanatical Blairite by the kind of people who still care about such labels. (That is, most of the media and a large but diminishing section of the parliamentary Labour party.)

If Adonis is going to be empowered to take serious decisions about the direction of Labour policy on reforming the economy, infrastructure and strategic investment, he and Cruddas will make a formidable pairing. Indeed, it is hard to believe that the Tories seriously believe their own spin about a sudden surge of Trotskyism at the Labour top table. Surely they are not so crude in their analysis or so ignorant of Labour thinking. Miliband must be hoping they are and that his enemies, not for the first time, are busy underestimating him.

Update: In Prime Minister's Questions today David Cameron used the appointment of Jon Cruddas as a device to attack Ed Miliband for apparent cosiness with trade unions and for revealing his supposedly sinister leftist impulses. It was a desperate lunge suggesting that the Tories do indeed know nothing about Cruddas other than what they must have hastily found on Wikipedia this morning. If they want a more nuanced view they should start with Gaby Hinsliff's profile for the Guardian here and, of course, some of the pieces he has written for the Statesman here.

 

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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The World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.